Artisan Trail of Virginia should lead to Rappahannock

By Patti Brennan

Living in a rural environment feeds the soul and leaves the hands with a bit of extra work to do. As an artist, living in Rappahannock for the past 30 years, I know the challenges of marketing my work and making a living. My approach has been “strength in numbers.” On your own as an artist, it’s a challenge to be recognized. Within a group of talented artists, there is more opportunity for visibility and making a living.

Recently I have discovered an opportunity that may be the answer to standing in the strength of numbers: the Artisan Trail Network, created by the Artisans Center of Virginia (ACV). Last month I attended a presentation by Sherri Smith, director of the ACV. Building on the regional trail programming that began in Southwest Virginia, the ACV is expanding the trail program across the rest of the state. They are very interested in helping Rappahannock County develop our own Artisan Trail Network.

The Artisans Center of Virginia, a non-profit corporation, is the official state-designated artisan center dedicated to enhancing the economic opportunities for artisans and the communities in which they reside. They have created and continue to build on a statewide artisan registry, identifying artisans and the venues that serve them. By using technology, marketing and entrepreneurial opportunity to network artisan businesses, they have strengthened the economic vitality of many of Virginia’s rural and urbanized communities.

The Artisan Trail Network website is interfaced with well-known search engines like Trip Advisor and Travelocity through its data connection with Virginia.org. Their website enables visitors to plan a visit to an artist studios, galleries, etc., while making reservations for their lodging and dinner, all from the comfort of home.

Eligible participants of the trail network are: craft artisans, fine artists, galleries and art venues and “agri-artisan” businesses (including businesses such as family farms, vineyards, wineries, breweries, orchards, organic farms and roadside stands). Also invited to be on the trail site would be “locally made” businesses and shop venues, along with site sponsors such as restaurants, B&Bs and other points of interest.

All efforts are made to enhance the business connectivity of the community and regional tourism activity. The Artisan Trail Network opportunity will combine all the different venues already existing in Rappahannock County, by joining together and marketing Rappahannock as a complete experience. Members from all eligible interest groups in our community will be invited to participate in representing their groups’ interests on the trail.

According to the ACV website, “the ACV Artisan Trail Network offers a unique opportunity to form strategic alliances with artisans, venues, galleries and retailers across the state, while connecting points of interest, restaurants, and accommodation locations in the related communities in order to enhance regional tourism activity. The ACV Artisan Trail Network is an innovative program to leverage ACV’s broad-based grassroots membership into a coordinated marketing and outreach campaign to strengthen local communities while strengthening Virginia’s Artisan industry.”

Upon initiation of a new trail, the ACV asks each participant to complete an online survey to create a baseline for measuring the success of the program over time. The information is reviewed and approximately 12 months after the public launch of their trail, the site participants are asked to take another short survey designed to measure the impact of the program.

If you sign up to participate during the initial development period, you will receive a listing in the color printed map/brochure, which is a special regional launch publication. The map/ brochure is distributed through ACV outlets, trail participants, regional welcome centers and at visitor centers throughout the state. This map/brochure is part of the initial startup effort and is not offered after the first launch. ACV also markets with brand recognition, with slogans such as “Take Home a Piece of Virginia,” and is linked with the Virginia Tourism website and the brand slogan “Virginia Is for Lovers.” They also offer educational programs to help artisans learn more about marketing themselves, growing their retail endeavors and basic business skills.

Research, based on similar trails in western North Carolina, has shown that 97 percent of travelers make a purchase somewhere along the trail. Artisan studios and agri-artisans have shown an increase of 23 percent in sales, while craft shops and galleries reported a 28 percent increase in revenue.

As you would expect, all things have a price, and it’s true for association with ACV and Artisan Trail Network. As a community, there is an initial implementation fee to get started. It is possible we can share this fee with our neighboring counties of Fauquier and Culpeper, if we choose to participate in a “combined county” networking trail. This will be determined after we see how much interest there is in this opportunity and what we feel as a community such a broad collaboration serves us best. For the individual artisan, galleries and others who wish to join the trail networking, there is an initial one-time and an annual fee thereafter, which vary according to your level of participation. These fees are found on the ACV website.

ACV director Sherri Smith will be visiting Rappahannock County next week. She will be giving an informative presentation about ACV and the Artisan Trail Network. The presentation is 7 p.m. Monday (April 8) at River District Arts in Sperryville. Artisans, fine artists, galleries, wineries, agri-businesses, B&Bs, “locally made” store owners and restaurants owners are invited to come, learn and ask questions about this exciting opportunity.

To learn more before the meeting, visit artisanscenterofvirginia.org. The ACV has successfully set up several trails in many counties in Virginia. Artisan Trails of Southwest Virginia, the “Round the Mountain Trail,” is a great example of how artisan trails are helping extremely rural communities develop revenue by utilizing the resources of their talented artisans. See it at roundthemountain.org.

I believe the Artisan Trail Network makes sense. By joining together, we can join the “creative economy” and begin generating revenue for ourselves and to the benefit of our entire community. For more information, or to RSVP that you are coming to the meeting, please email me at raparttrail@gmail.com.

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